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Perfect Jazz


"I've never heard these legendary recordings sound so magnificent." Jazz Magazine International

Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra: St. Louis Blues << sound clip
The Charleston Chasers: Someday Sweetheart
Frankie Trumbauer/Bix Beiderbecke: Singin' The Blues
Johnny Dodds & His Chicago Boys: 29th and Dearborn
Cab Calloway & His Orchestra: Minnie the Moocher
Duke Ellington & His Orchestra: Clarinet Lament
Benny Carter & His Swing Quintet: Royal Garden Blues
Art Tatum: Stormy Weather
Count Basie & His Orchestra: One O'Clock Jump
Bunny Berigan & His Orchestra: I Can't Get Started
Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra: What Is This Thing Called Love?
Benny Goodman Sextet: Flying Home
Ella Fitzgerald: Tain't What You Do (It's The Way That Cha Do It) << sound clip
Coleman Hawkins & His Orchestra: Body And Soul
Duke Ellington & His Orchestra: The Sidewalks Of New York
Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra: When A Woman Loves A Man
Bob Crosby & His Orchestra: King Porter Stomp
Fats Waller & His Rhythm: Cheatin' On Me
Jimmie Lunceford & His Orchestra: Frisco Fog
Benny Goodman Sextet: On The Alamo << sound clip
Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra: A Fine Romance
Benny Carter: All Of Me
Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five: Doug The Jitterbug
Fats Waller: Ain't Misbehavin'

We've called this compilation 'Perfect Jazz' for that's just what we think it is, especially as it presents examples of the genre which show off the music's greatest practitioners at their creative best. Expressive, engaging, virtuosic, challenging, energetic or dynamic - all the adjectival attributes of jazz perfection are here, each track fit to rank with the best in their category.

Louis Armstrong is an American icon, the first great soloist and conceptual play-maker of the new music, an artistic innovator who became a popular entertainer, recognised everywhere in the world. Here he plays the immortal St. Louis Blues, the best-known of W. C. Handy's compositions, giving it a zesty quality, allowing his exceptional instrumental facility full reign. On this 1929 track, Louis is surrounded by old friends, many from New Orleans, the city of his birth and the cradle of jazz itself. The shouting trombone is by J.C. Higginbotham, one of the most fluent of early stylists and a man who liked a drink - his trombone case was specially adapted to house two whiskey bottles! The husky, intensely rhythmic vocal is by Louis himself, of course.

The Charleston Chasers were a white recording group, Red Nichols providing the careful trumpet lead, with rubbery trombone by Miff Mole, something of a star in twenties New York. The quietly fizzy clarinet is by Jimmy Dorsey, later a successful swing era bandleader, often with his combative brother, the brilliant trombonist Tommy Dorsey. However likeable the period charm of the piece, the music sounds a touch effete when compared with Armstrong's sturdy efforts.

Bix Beiderbecke, the cornetist from Davenport, Iowa, was destined for a safe middle-class professional career. Instead, he fell for the lure of jazz and was soon on his way, first in Chicago and then on to New York. It was his fragile tone which made you hold your breath - its sound famously likened by guitarist Eddie Condon to 'a girl saying yes' - the lines of his improvisations always original and still much admired today. Singin' The Blues (from February 1927) is among his greatest achievements, the opening theme carried by C-Melody saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer, another whose influence carried far and wide, and counter-balanced by Eddie Lang's plangent guitar. Sadly, Bix succumbed to alcoholism and was dead at twenty-eight, his genius largely unfulfilled.

The New Orleans clarinettist Johnny Dodds was a modest, dignified man, a contemporary of Armstrong's and a key participant in the famous Hot Five sessions. There's a passionate intensity to his blues playing, still evident on 29th And Dearborn, made late in his career (in 1938). The muted trumpet is by Charlie Shavers.

Cab Calloway developed his penchant for eccentric dancing and bizarre vocals while leading his own band at New York's Cotton Club. Minnie The Moocher stayed as his theme throughout a long life in show-biz (he died in 1994, aged eighty-seven) which included an appearance in the cult movie 'The Blues Brothers' in 1980. Duke Ellington once said he kept his own Famous Orchestra going so that he might hear the music he'd written the day after its composition. He fashioned a series of portrait features for his finest instrumentalists including the lovely Clarinet Lament for Albany 'Barney' Bigard, another New Orleanian, whose tonal poise is the embodiment of Creole refinement. Sidewalks Of New York is by Ellington's great 1940 band and reveals the 'wa-wa' trombone of Tricky Sam Nanton (who achieved his effects by using a plumber's rubber plunger as a mute.

If Duke was a musical sophisticate, then Benny Carter is the epitome of stylistic elegance. Still active as a saxophonist today, his version of Royal Garden Blues was made in London in 1936 while the suave American was staff arranger for Henry Hall's BBC Orchestra. The jaunty trumpet is by Scotsman Tommy McQuater, another who still plays, while Carter solos on clarinet and alto saxophone. All Of Me is by a later big band and displays Carter's masterly writing for the saxophone section. The ballad trombone is by Basie-ite Benny Morton. Art Tatum was partially sighted and learned to read Braille music at a School for the Blind in Columbus, Ohio. Word spread about his prowess as a pianist and singer and Adelaide Hall brought his to New York. He was an overnight sensation, at least among musicians, who were bewildered by his technique and exceptional harmonic awareness. Classical pianists like Horovitz and Rubenstein were equally enthusiastic, and Tatum went on to create a whole raft of outstanding recordings like Stormy Weather.

Pianist-bandleader William 'Count' Basie always made a virtue of understatement. His swing sense, buoyed up by his 'All-American' rhythm section, gave wing to soloists like tenorists Herschel Evans and Lester Young. A 'head' arrangement (put together by the band over months), One O'Clock Jump became Basie's theme tune.

The white trumpeter Bunny Berigan starred with Benny Goodman's orchestra before forming his own travelling big band. His treatment of Vernon Duke's classic pop song, I Can't Get Started is structured like a test piece, the drama building through several choruses. If his vocal seems a touch tremulous, that was part of its charm. It's the imperious trumpet in the final section of the record which helped to make this 1937 recording a nation-wide hit.

Trombonist Tommy Dorsey was always more disciplined than Berigan. The son of a Scranton coal-miner, Tommy, like his elder brother Jimmy, matured early as an instrumentalist and earned a huge reputation for punchy jazz playing and for his impeccable ballad performances. His swing bands were always well-rehearsed and musicianly. Dorsey had to defer to Benny Goodman in the popularity stakes, the Chicago clarinettist who was known as the 'King of Swing'. Benny created a number of bands-within-the-band - small combos made up of his musicians - often recruiting instrumental stars to appear with him. It's trumpeter Cootie Williams (formerly with Duke Ellington) and the fine guitarist Charlie Christian who help him create this delightfully relaxed version of On The Alamo.

Ella Fitzgerald was another whose career endured, her silken vocal skills taking her from her initial role as a band singer to ultimate success as a concert and recording artist. Here, barely twenty-two, she sounds young and bright, supported by drummer Chick Webb's band. The tenor-saxophonist Coleman Hawkins was the dominant voice on his instrument for most of the inter-war years and his rhapsodic version of Body And Soul set new standards for ballad improvising. Its rich adornment and rolling fluency made it a hit and Hawkins had to play Johnny Green's great song every night from then on.

Billie Holiday's life has been endlessly pored over in print and on film, the storm clouds of tragedy which marred her later career earning her much unwelcome publicity. A singer who phrased like an instrumentalist, she was popular with musicians who loved her openness and joie-de-vivre. When A Woman Loves A Man and A Fine Romance are vocal gems, Billie's laid-back ease supported by jazz giants like Lester Young and trumpeter Buck Clayton, clarinettist Irving Fazola, and Bunny Berigan.

Bob Crosby was Bing's younger brother, good-looking and agreeable, which made him the ideal front man for a new co-operative band packed with jazzmen who wanted to prosper. Crosby's crew achieved success with swing versions of old-time numbers. Jelly Roll Morton's King Porter Stomp is given a mighty workover here, with Ray Bauduc's drums powering through. The even-toned tenor is by Eddie Miller, yet another New Orleans product.

The amply-proportioned Thomas 'Fats' Waller was a New Yorker, the son of a pastor who disapproved of his musical leanings and lifestyle (Fats died, exhausted, at thirty-nine). His risible vocal style and outrageous asides made him a favourite with theatre and cinema audiences everywhere, who sometimes overlooked his superb keyboard skills. A renowned proponent of Harlem 'stride' piano, Fats was also a composer and soloist of genius. Cheatin' On Me is quite sedate, while Ain't Misbehavin' (his best-known composition, with Zutty Singleton beavering away on the drums) is from the film 'Stormy Weather'. It was while returning to Harlem from Hollywood that Fats died on board the trans-continental train.

Jimmie Lunceford was an athletics coach in a Missouri high school before he took over the music course. He built a big band using the student musicians he'd trained and it became one of the most celebrated in jazz. The atmospheric Frisco Fog, from 1937, features growl trumpet and some typically bustling tenor by Joe Thomas, later an undertaker in Kansas City. Another who achieved extraordinary success was the saxophonist-singer Louis Jordan whose jump style presaged rhythm and blues, and ultimately, rock and roll. His always-peppy Tympany Five (so-called because of the booming timpani drums heard on the oddly endearing Doug The Jitterbug) lasted until the 1970s, with Jordan in demand with both black and white audiences. The long-running tribute show, 'Five Guys Named Moe' is Jordan's best memorial.

'Perfect Jazz?' Perfect listening!


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